Green City

Just when you are getting frustrated and discouraged by the lack of vision and action on the part of politicians on climate change, they totally surprise you.

Guess what? There are two amazing projects going on right now in my city!

The first one is a long-range environmental plan called the “The Way We Green“, which will be put in front of city council for approval by early 2011. The proposal defines specific objectives to accomplish in the following 7 areas:

  1. Energy & Climate Change
  2. River Water Supply & Quality
  3. Food Security
  4. Air Quality
  5. Biodiversity / Healthy Ecosystems
  6. Waste Management
  7. One Planet Living

I am so excited by this plan. I had no idea that our city was so progressive. We have always been top notch in areas of recycling, but a bit behind the times when it came to things like urban sprawl and efficient public transportation. The fact that this plan could change all that is so inspiring and refreshing and just what I needed to see.

One of the areas of this plan that I am most happy about is the creation of a Food Policy Council for the city. I know that many Canadian cities have this already, so I am glad to see that we are finally getting one too. I am hopeful that this will encourage new ventures of local food production, and increase the food shed of the city and surrounding area. I would love to see a day when local food is widely available and readily accessible by all.

The second development is a big one. Huge. Have you ever sat there and daydreamed about what sustainable green living would look like in the future? What kinds of homes would we live in, how would we transport ourselves, how would our energy needs be met? Due to the massive infrastructure changes that would be required, sometimes I think that this really is only a dream (but one worth having). Perhaps my children or future grandchildren would live in different types of homes and use energy differently, but can I expect to see these kinds of changes where I live in my lifetime?

In short, YES!

There are plans underway to redevelop the city centre airport lands into an environmentally sustainable community to house over 20,000 people in a carbon neutral environment, with no cars. Just think of the urban sprawl that will be averted! Five companies from around the world, including the US, Netherlands, Sweden, Canada and the UK, submitted proposals for the vision for this space. These proposals are now up for display and comment at City Hall and online.

I went to City Hall last week to take a look in person. The displays were amazing. I came away so happy, so excited about what was in the realm of possibility for my city. My favourite proposal, by Perkins + Will of Vancouver, includes these features:

  1. Renewable energy production to power the community and still have enough left over to export electricity to other parts of the city
  2. Urban Farm and greenhouses for local food production
  3. Extensive water recycling system
  4. World class green space and park
  5. Large hill with views of downtown, used for tobogganing in the winter and music festivals in the summer
  6. Cross country skiing circuit
  7. Ice skating rink
  8. Large water feature with a 1 kilometre rowing course
  9. Several community gathering areas
  10. 4 community neighbourhoods, with green “fingers” reaching in from the large central park
  11. Links light rail and bus transit, no cars
  12. Cycling and hiking route that connects the community to the city’s river valley park system
  13. Residential buildings that feature lots of windows and solar panels
  14. Commercial areas to provide services to residents, as well as local jobs
  15. 4 schools – 2 elementary, 1 junior high, 1 high school

Take a look at the master plan! Can you see how the plan plays homage the former runways, respecting the history of this space in the design? 

I think this is a beautiful model of sustainable development. I really feel that this submission, more than any others, celebrates my town as a winter city, and provides many venues for an active social and community gatherings. I was also so pleased to see that it goes beyond net zero, and incorporates local food production as well! If this is built, I would love to live there!  Here is their video submission:

My second favourite submission was from KCAP of the Netherlands.  Their video was fantastic:

If you live here too, you have until February 28th to submit your comments on each of the submissions online. I did this last weekend. The city will be choosing a winner in a few months, and then will embark on a 15 month process to consult with the public and refine and develop the plans. They expect to break ground in 2013.

Bring on the green!

What do you think of these developments? What exciting things are going on in your city?

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Food Friday: Food Inc.

I just finished watching the movie Food Inc. In fact, the credits are still rolling! I am deeply saddened and frustrated and shocked. I don’t know how we let it get so out of hand.

The biggest shocker was the amount of control the food companies have over the farmers. In the US, 70% of the meat supply is controlled by only 4 large corporations. These corporations hire farmers, and then tell them how to run their operations, what equipment to use, what breed of animals to grow, what to feed them, how to medicate them… The autonomous business decisions have moved from the farmer, to the corporation. The farmer ends up very much in debt (upgrading to all the new equipment and technology), and makes a very low income at the end of it all, about $18,000 per year on average. Many farmers in the documentary did not want to talk about their operations, for fear of losing their contract. One chicken farmer did let the cameras into her operation, only because she was so fed up with the whole system that she wanted to take a stand. She was also one of the only farmers that had chicken houses with windows – all the other farmers in the area kept their chickens in the dark. The reason? I am not sure. Why would you keep chickens in the dark, and purposely not have windows? Perhaps we are not supposed to see what goes on inside? In the end, the one farmer that talked to the cameras did lose her contract, due to failing to “upgrade” her chicken houses to be window-less.

Gross.

Another thing that struck me was the corn. I knew that vast mono-cultures of corn were being grown in the US, but I did not know that 30% of land in the US is covered in corn crops. Shocking. According to the documentary, corn is so heavily subsidized by the government, that it is profitable to put it into almost every processed food in the grocery store. Y’know all those words on food labels that we don’t understand and cannot even pronounce? Apparently most of them are derived some way or another out of corn. We all know that the glucose-fructose in most processed foods is made from corn, and that it is making our kids obese and giving them type 2 diabetes. Why then is this subsidized instead of foods that are good for us?

As a result of the subsidization, the corn is so cheap, they feed it to cows.

Now, cows have not evolved to eat corn (they prefer grass) and that this is creating problems such that the cows have to be kept constantly on antibiotics to avoid disease. In the feedlots cows are creating massive amounts of manure that is toxic in such high concentrations, it can get into the water supply if not carefully monitored. I did not realize that the cows are standing ankle deep in their own shit, rubbing it all over themselves and each other, so if one cow has a disease or bacteria then they all have it. Then they are taken in for slaughter – and there is manure all over their bodies. How does shit not get in the meat? The sad thing is – it does get in the meat and that is why that little boy who was 2 years old died from eating a Jack in the Box hamburger.

Then there are the workers – I watched the movie Fast Food Nation a few years ago which also talked about the horrible conditions that meat processing workers endure, and the power that the large corporations have over them. Many workers now are immigrants (I guess no other Americans want the jobs), and the company controls their immigration status. It is pretty obvious that this gives the company a whole lot of control. Conditions are bad, and dangerous.

Now for the genetically modified foods, or GMOs. This is something I never really knew about until a few months ago. I would hear snippets about it, but did not know what foods were GMO and which were not. One thing that really stood out from me from this documentary is that 70% of processed foods in the grocery store contain some sort of GMO. Now I don’t mind the age old practice of grafting a pear branch to an apple tree, or creating hybrid seeds naturally. But when you get into the lab and mess around with the DNA of a cell, have we gone too far? What are the implications to nature? What are the implications to our health? Shockingly, 80-90% of corn, soybean and cotton in the US are GMO derived. I had no idea. In Canada, nearly all of our canola is genetically modified. This makes me sad. I love our beautiful canola fields, so bright and yellow in the summer. I wish they were not GMO, I wish they were natural.

So Canada, the US and Australia grow vast quantities of GMO crops, while Japan, New Zealand, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Greece and Ireland have banned them completely. Why do all these countries ban them while we grow them almost exclusively? What dangers do they see that we do not? Some African nations will not even accept GMO food as aid.

Then there are the GMO terminator seeds, which slap Mother Nature in the face by terminating fertility and producing only sterile seeds. What if that got out into nature?

Despite all this, there was a glimmer of hope in the movie: an organic sustainable farmer that made all his own business decisions, held his land and animals in high regard, and farmed like we used to farm 50 years ago – naturally without chemicals, without heaps of manure, without corn as feed. He held true to his values, and was not held hostage to a corporate contract. He sold his food directly to people, and they came from far and wide to buy it. He had his chicken tested for bacteria and compared it to chicken purchased at the supermarket, and found that his product had 133 psu while the supermarket chicken had 3700 psu (I am not sure what the psu stand for, but a 300 fold increase in bacteria sounds pretty gross).

This movie just solidified for me that I must continue to prepare much of my food myself, from scratch, so that I know what’s in it. I will also continue to shop at farmer’s markets. Direct food from farmer to customer provides the best income to the farmers, I am sure of it. The food chain is shorter, and the influence that the food companies have on the whole transaction is nil. I am also grossed out by the meat; I am not sure how to deal with that at the moment. I don’t think I can eat the store-bought meat anymore. I don’t know. We will see.

In the end, we can all do what the movie tells us to do – vote with our forks… three times a day.

Connecting at the Farmer’s Market

Farmers' Market

Image by NatalieMaynor via Flickr

There is a Farmer’s Market within a 10 minute walk of my house that is open year round. I have only recently begun to appreciate how lucky I am to have it so close. However, it is a small market. For the last month I have been going to my city’s largest market, mostly for the variety of foods offered. Yesterday I decided to check out my local market again, and see what I could find.

Kulman’s is the one vegetable vendor at this market – their operation is on the edge of the city. I bought potatoes and tomatoes. Then I noticed his pickled carrots and asked him if they tasted like pickles. He answered that they have such a different texture than pickles – they are not juicy but hard, and you really can taste the carrot. I considered buying a jar to sample (before I make my own pickled carrots one day) but they were $16 so I held off. I told him I wanted to make pickles this year, but had never done it before. He then went on to tell me how easy it was to make pickles, and specifically how to do it. “They key is tweaking the recipe to just how you like it”, he said.

I wandered on. There was a new girl in the Market, selling organic homemade cosmetics and candy under the name Mistical AcScents. She was super cool. Get this – she is inspired by the 16th century. Her products are a total throwback to medieval times!! She researches what people used way back then, using University archives and transcripts that have been made available online through Google Books. She then recreates the past, everything handmade, everything naturally organic. She offers face creams, cleansers and toners, as well as lip balm and lip tint. She has some bath products as well, and her homemade candies look divine. She even has her own Etsy shop online, and is part of the Etsy Organic Team. She was so nice, and I so believed in what she was doing, that I broke my shopping ban and bought a small jar of rose face cream. I just felt like I had to support her. This was her second show at the market and I wanted her to stick around. The price was right – $3.50.

Next I purchased eggs from Ma-Be Farms, only 3 dollars for free run and farm fresh. He asked me if I wanted brown eggs or white eggs. “What is the difference?” I asked. “Well brown eggs come from brown chickens and white eggs come from white chickens”, he replied. “It is as simple as that?” I asked. “It is a simple as that”, he replied. I chose a dozen brown. Then he mentioned that they take the egg cartons back to reuse them. I told him that I had been saving all my egg cartons, knowing that somebody would like to reuse them! So eggs for me, and a new home for all my egg cartons.

Next I came across a lady selling hemp products. I have heard of hemp before, but didn’t know a whole lot about it. She explained to me all the uses for hemp – the oil can be used in cosmetics, shampoo, conditioner, and it can be used as cooking oil. The seeds are a fantastic source of protein – a whopping 11 grams in only 2 tablespoons. Vegetarians of the world rejoice! The hemp fibres are super strong and long lasting.  She pulled out her knitting bag from under the table to show me two projects she was working on, using hemp yarns. The first was a hemp/wool blend, and the sweater was quite soft. The second was made from 100% hemp, and it was stiff, but she told me it would soften over time. She said that the sweater would be so long wearing, that it would outlast most people! I asked here where I could get hemp yarn and she told me it was difficult to find, and most yarn mills are located in China or India.  So this miracle fibre is grown locally in Alberta, but we have to ship it across the world to be milled for yarn.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could mill it ourselves?  She agreed. She told me that there are heavy restrictions on growing hemp – you have to apply for a license and that can take up to 2 years. Then the minimum you can grow is 10 acres. This keeps many people out of the market. I guess hemp gets a bad rap, due to its notorious cousin, marijuana. However, hemp doesn’t have any THC, marijuana’s active ingredient. So what is the issue? She also told me about Kestrel, the first road-ready car made out of hemp.  Check it out!  Wow. As for me, I would love to get my hands on some local hemp yarn and make some cosy sweaters for my kids.

I walked out of the market happy with the connections I made and the conversations I had. I definitely learned a few things. I realized though, that almost all these vendors were nearing retirement age (if not beyond). There were so many tables of grandmas, offering homemade baking, homemade children’s blankets, homemade doll clothes. Even the farm vendors were older. It made me think – who is going to replace them when they retire? What will happen to this market?

I am not sure what will happen. All I know is that I want to support these farmers in the here and now. Perhaps if more people do the same, the younger generation of farmers will see that farming can offer a decent living, and be drawn back into the trade. There are so many benefits – from the food security of our region, to the health benefits of the people through eating more whole foods, to the farmers, and to our precious environment.

I will leave you with a wonderful tribute to one farmer – my good friend Becky of F&M wrote this song for her Grandpa who passed away last month. It is simply – beautiful.

http://beckyanderson.bandcamp.com/track/the-farmer

PIcture by Bjoern Friedrich.

Wal-Mart Worries

A typical Wal-Mart discount department store i...

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Shortly after I had my green epiphany in November, I found myself wandering around in Wal-Mart. I looked around me and saw aisles and aisles of boxed items, plastic items, clothes, shoes, and toys for young and old. Each shelf was packed with stuff and the aisles went on and on and on. The store was huge. How much stuff was actually in here anyway? Who is going to buy it all? Where did it all come from?

Standing there in Wal-Mart, where I had been at least a hundred times before, it hit me. How are we ever going to change as much as we need to, when this Wal-Mart represents our consumption culture? I looked at all the people around me, pushing carts full of stuff. Consumption is all around us, it is what we do. How can we stop? It is just not sustainable to consume as much as we do. The resources are going to run out. We are pumping too much carbon into the sky to produce all this stuff, to ship it. At the end of the day, most of this stuff just ends up in the garbage anyway, as we reach for a newer, shinier option. We like to buy things. It makes us feel happy. It makes us feel like we deserve it, that we have worked hard for our money and that this is our reward. Sometimes it makes us feel like we measure up to other people, or worse, that we are better than other people.

The sad thing is that we buy all this stuff without appreciating what part of the Earth it came from, how far it came, and the people who were involved along the way.  Where did the tree grow that was cut down to produce the cardboard box?  Was the place they mined the metals a safe place to work? Did the workers who made the plastic have proper protection from the chemicals? Were the people in China who put the item together paid a fair wage, enough to feed their family? Do they even get to see their family or are they migrant workers from rural areas? Often Chinese migrant workers will leave their children behind to work in the city, only seeing them once or twice a year. I can’t even imagine having to do that. 

This all happens so I can have a new toaster, or a nicer coffee maker. I want some new dishes – I want to switch out the ones I have, I am sick of them. I want to buy a few new lipsticks, even though I have a dozen or so at home, I just want some different colours. I should also get a new stapler, since mine only staples 15 sheets at a time and I would prefer if it stapled 20. Hmmm… How about a new clock, this one looks more modern than the one I have. What else can I get while I am here?

So standing there that day in Wal-Mart, I began to feel panicky, anxious. What was going to happen to our world, how would we ever change? 

In that moment I resolved that I would not purchase things recklessly. I would make do with what I had. If I needed something, I would try first to find it used. I decided then and there to put myself on a shopping ban in 2011 to see how it felt.

Now it is February, and it feels good. I have not purchased any toys for my kids, no clothes for anyone. I have not purchased any cleaners or shampoo or hair gel or moisturizer. I am making do with what I have, and in some cases, making homemade stuff to compensate. It is challenging, yes, but also fulfilling. I feel like I am pushing myself to change, in hopes that others will change too. I want to tread lightly. I don’t want to hurt our world more than I have to. To quote Colin Beavan from his excellent book, No Impact Man:

If I treated the resources that pass through my hands as if they were precious, might I also begin to feel like this very life – the one right under my feet right now and right this very moment – might be precious too? And excuse me for generalizing – I don’t mean to preach – what if instead of just me, it were we? By this I mean if we, as a culture, treated resources as precious, might we not begin to act and feel as though this life we lead together – the one we live when we look in each other’s eyes – might be precious, too? And might this planet be precious, too? (page 46)

Precious indeed.

Letters to Leaders: Environment Minister Kent

The Centre Block on Parliament Hill, containin...

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One of my new year’s resolutions was to write a Letter to Leaders series. I wanted to ramp up my political power to more than just a tick in the ballot box every 3-4 years. I wanted to write to political leaders and voice my concerns. I wanted to write to corporate leaders as well, given the high degree of influence and power they have on our society. I wanted to see if anything would happen. I needed to try.

I have many ideas on who I want to send these letters to and what I want to write about. I don’t want to simply complain. I want to offer up new ideas, open up hearts and minds. I don’t want to put down, I want to raise up. I want offer encouragement to do better, to go greener, to be more sustainable.

I also want to offer support and praise and gratitude, to those leaders that are doing good works, those that are working towards a new sustainable future, those that are ahead of the curve. I know how inspiring and motivating it can be to have acknowledgement and support, so I wanted to write letters to these types of people as well.

So I hummed and hawed on who would receive my very first letter. Should I start small and work up? Should I have an overall strategy on the content of my letters? Should I write the positive letters first?

After much deliberation, I decided to go right to the top and start with my biggest, broadest concern. So I wrote my first letter to the Environment Minister of Canada, Peter Kent.  I just sent this letter off moments ago, and am giddy with excitement! 

My approach was this – open the letter from a place of respect and congratulate him on his recent appointment, then establish that I was a average, rational person representing an average, rational voter (not some eco-nut), and then share some common ground, such as my previous voting patterns. After establishing all that, only then would I get into my concerns about the environment and climate change. I have worries, I have children…

Well… I will just let you read it:

 

February 13, 2011

The Honourable Peter Kent
Minister of the Environment
10 Wellington Street, 28th Floor
Gatineau, Quebec
K1A 0H3

Dear Honourable Minister Kent,

First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your recent appointment to Environment Minister. Some think that this is the most important cabinet position of all, since our environment is the root of all life, from which everything else is possible.

I am a 35 year-old wife and mother, living in Alberta. I got a degree in Business from the University of Alberta am now an accountant. I am well versed in economics, and believe that in most cases, the free market is able to sort out the best and most efficient way of doing things. As a young adult I voted Conservative. I agree with fiscal conservatism, and spending tax dollars carefully and responsibly.

However, a few years ago I started getting concerned about the environment and climate change. We were all told that 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are warming the planet. New information has now come out that indicates we are on the worst case trajectory for climate change, and that we could be facing the point of no return within 20 years. It turns out that our planet is very sensitive to even the smallest changes in average temperature, and warming more than 2°C will lead to catastrophic changes to sea level and weather patterns. This could create hundreds of millions of environmental refugees, cause the extinction of up to a quarter of the animal species on Earth, and leave some of our most precious food growing areas as deserts. Food shortages could become a reality, even here in Canada.

I have children. I have little boy who is 5 years old who likes comic books and cuddling his stuffed puppy at night. I have a little girl who is two years old who likes pretty bracelets and baby dolls. I worry about their future, even living here in Canada. I worry about their food supply. When my daughter is my age, will she worry about how feed her children, my grandchildren? Will she watch in horror as millions of people die or go hungry due to rising waters? Will she look at me and ask what I did to act when we still had the chance?

I know that you support the oil sands in Alberta, and believe that our oil is more ethical than that from the Middle East. I believe that this is like comparing apples to oranges, as surely there must be an ethical consideration for the extremely high environmental cost. The oil sands are very polluting, we all know that. The air, the water, the forests, the fish and the animals suffer. Sadly, the residents of Fort Chipewyan suffer as well, and are dying of rare cancers linked to petrochemicals. As an Albertan, I feel for these people and want to help them somehow.

However despite all the controversy, you must see for the sake of your family and for humanity that the world must eventually phase out oil. If we take all that oil out of the sand in Alberta, and put it into the air, we will have surely written off the future for my children. The world will most certainly warm past 2 degrees. We most certainly will find ourselves in a very scary and dangerous position.

I know that there are no easy answers. However, we must take the long term view to save our future generations from certain hardship. We must reduce emissions drastically, to avoid a warming of 2 degrees. We must put a price on carbon to allow the free market of renewable energies to flourish. We must do a better job of monitoring the water pollution of the oil sands and we must reduce the rate of their development. We must cut subsidies to the oil and gas sector and give more support to renewable energies. We must improve and support local food production.

We must do these things, and quickly. I know you are torn in many directions as a politician. However, we have a very unique opportunity to be a leader in these areas. I beg of you, as Minister of the Environment, to please take the higher ground – one that caters to life, to sustainability, and to the environment. Canada’s children are depending on you.

 Sincerely,


Sherry
Albertan, wife, and mother of two Canadian children

Bus Ride

Transit bus
Image via Wikimedia

If you have not already noticed, I am worried about climate change.  Everyday I learn more, read more, hear more; every day I am more worried.  It seems crazy that we have gotten ourselves into this situation, and even more crazy that most of us are content to sit idly by while it happens all around us.  However, I do understand why people choose to be bystanders – I was one of them only months ago.  What could I do?  How could I make a difference?  These bad things are going to happen regardless of what I did.  All I could do was just watch it unfold and hope for the best.  Right?

Well, maybe, maybe not. 

Maybe not.

I can do things to effect change in my own life.  I can inch things forward, little by little, by adding my voice to the thousands that are already on the cause.  I can “be the change you want to see in the world”.

It is pretty hard to openly complain about the BP oil spill or the Alberta oil sands, and still jump in my car every time I want to go somewhere.  But it is just so easy to jump in the car.  But how can I complain about oil and still be a rampant user of oil?  It is a double standard and I know it.

But it is hard.  I wrote before of our car culture and its hold on North American society.  I live in a city that is especially spread out, almost the worst urban spawl in Canada according to a recent study.  This makes it difficult to get around without a car.

I was thinking about it, and there are four main areas where I use my car:

  1. Work
  2. Shopping (for just groceries due to my current shopping ban)
  3. Friends and family gatherings
  4. Family activities (for example, my kid’s swimming lessons)

Where could stop using my car?  By far, the easiest to tackle is going to work.  There is a bus that goes through my neighbourhood that heads straight downtown and can deposit me one block from my office. So, beginning in 2011, I have committed to taking the bus to work.

I have not taken the bus in about 10 years, so this was a really new way of transporting myself.  After about 5 weeks, I am happy to report on my experience:

The entire trip takes about 35 minutes, as compared to about 15 minutes by car.  This includes walking 10 minutes in my neighbourhood, and another 5 minutes downtown to my office.  I am enjoying the bit of exercise this provides each day (30 minutes total).  I especially enjoy walking home at night in the quiet streets of my neighbourhood.  I reflect on my day.  I notice how the snow beneath my feet sparkles in the street lights.  I pass by houses, looking warm and cozy inside. I look up at the stars.

However, I am especially enjoying my time spent on the bus.  For the most part, I read.  I seem to never have enough time to read everything I want to read, especially now that I am greening my life from top to bottom.  I have all sorts of books out from the library right now, ranging from gardening, to preserving food to making homemade cleaners. I want to soak up as much information as possible.  My daily bus ride gives me time to do this.

I also enjoy making new connections with strangers.  This may sound odd, I know.  But I have made a commitment to strengthen my everyday connections.  I want to be part of the of glue that holds us all together; so that we can better realize our shared humanity, our shared stake in this world.  So I have conversations.  I recently talked to one man who lost his house in a fire.  I talked to another woman who I happened to work with 10 years ago.  I often talk to the people waiting at the bus stop in my neighbourhood.  I think it is healthy to connect with others, to not just live our separate lives in our separate cars. 

All in all, it has been a good experience.  I will gladly continue to take the bus.  I have even started taking it for other types of trips as well.  It does take longer, yes.

That’s okay.  It gives me more time to relax, reflect and read.

Food Friday: Moo

A Frisian Holstein cow in the Netherlands: Int...

Image via Wikipedia

Ah yes, the cow. I was familiar with these creatures at an early age. I spent childhood weekends and summers at a cottage my parents owned by a lake. Across the gravel road was a field, and in that field there were always cows. They belonged to the nearby Hutterite colony. I remember waking up in the morning, hearing them moo. One such time, I peeked out my window from my bunk bed, and saw cows everywhere. Some were walking down the gravel road, some were standing there staring. They had escaped.

All my life I have eaten beef, and enjoyed it. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I actually craved steak. When I am out at a restaurant, I often order steak as a treat. I have fond memories of eating homemade hamburgers barbequed at my parent’s cottage, under the canopy of trees and in view of the beautiful lake. My Dad would also barbeque steak, carefully purchased and lovingly prepared, for us all to enjoy.

But since then, I have learned more about the source of all this good food. Apparently cows fart, like, way too much. Their farts contain methane, which is a greenhouse gas about 20 times more potent than CO2. They also eat massive amounts of grain and corn. It takes about 15 pounds of feed to raise one pound of beef. Much of this feed is grown as mono-crops which reduces biodiversity and depletes the soil. Corn especially, is quite damaging. It creates a tremendous amount of organic waste (think of corn stalks) and when left in fields to rot, more carbon is released into the sky. Even more worrisome, the heavy use of fertilizers in corn fields is causing run off problems in the Gulf of Mexico, creating a huge dead zone in the water, devoid of life.

But cows are not meant to eat corn or grains, they are meant to feed on grass. Feeding them what they are not really meant to eat makes them more prone to disease, and as a result they need to be constantly fed antibiotics. I also don’t like hearing feedlot stories, how some cows are fed parts of other cows, and how the large amount of excrement concentrated in a such a small area creates so much pollution (it is different when they poop all spread out on a large field as it acts like compost). I also don’t like that they are given hormones. What is in all this beef we are eating anyway?

I do love the taste of it though, and the protein punch it delivers. I have happy memories eating it with friends and family. But it is just not good for emissions or the environment. Who knew that livestock was responsible for an estimated 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions? It is shocking really.

So, because my love for the world and humanity goes deeper than my love for a great barbequed steak, I will refrain from personally purchasing beef from now on. I will no longer order it at restaurants. If someone else cooks it for me at a gathering, I will eat it and be grateful for it and enjoy it. Otherwise, no beef for me!

There is a vendor at my neighbourhood farmer’s market that raises and sells bison. Bison is native to where I live, hundreds of thousands of them used to roam here and feed on the wild grasses. This local farmer lets them do the same, and has little to no contact with them until the very end. They are not finished on grains, they do not eat corn. They are not pumped full of hormones. They live outside in the winter, just as they have done for thousands of years. So I have decided that I will buy bison from time to time, as a treat, to replace beef. It is local, lean, and natural. In fact, I made my classic chilli recipe with it last month and nobody even noticed the difference.

Plus they fart, like, way less.

Egypt for Change

I am watching what is going on in Egypt right now with amazement.  People are rising up and want Mubarak out, now.  The youth of Egypt have been inspired to add their voice and their energy to the protests.  Women are playing an active role; it is not just the young men.  In fact, some young women are leading the charge. 

 In this process these people have discovered the love they have for their country.  It is worth fighting for.  The world watches.  What will happen?

In all through history, great change has always been brought about by the efforts of people. People are what are required, people are the agents.  Nothing can get done without people.  History is full of revolutions – French, American, Soviet…  Now history is repeating itself again, this time in Egypt.

This gives me hope for the future.  Young people these days are so equipped to take up the challenges of this world.  The social media tools now available means that change can be organized faster than ever before.  People are demanding change because they know we can do better.  I cannot help but apply these same concepts to the environmental movement.  Will we ever see these kinds of demonstrations for action on climate change?  Will the whole world watch?  Will the governments of the world finally concede?

 I believe that one day, this will happen.  I am sure it will be the young people leading the way!